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I got myself a new 2019 Giant Trance 2. I am loving it and am doing lots of off road trails here in Texas. A typical ride for me is about 4-6 hours and maybe 10-20 miles depending on the inclines.

I've read plenty about how to clean my drive train, but not so much on frequency. I've heard that you should do it every 40 miles or so. At the same time, I can visibly see bits of dirt and sand attached to my chain. Not clumps of mud, but little grains you can see. My gut says to clean it again.

I get those bits of dirt and sand every single ride though. Is it really logical to clean it every single time? I mean, I make $70/hr and it takes an hour to clean the thing. At some point, the opportunity cost has to overcome the extra wear.

I am a noob, so I have no idea what a chain, the derailer gears, or the cassette, or gear on the crank, cost. I've got a Shimano SLX if that matters.

Should I be cleaning every time I see dirt and grit, even if that means every single ride?

  • With decent chain washer it shouldn't take more than 10-15 minutes to clean and lube the chain. And, except for extremely dusty or wet conditions, you shouldn't need to clean the chain more than once a week, so long as you use lubes appropriate to the conditions ("wet" lube for rainy, "dry" lube for dusty, standard lube for "normal" conditions). – Daniel R Hicks Jun 9 at 14:42
  • Are you sure it takes you four hours to do ten miles? That's less than walking pace. Most people would fall off a bike if they tried to ride it at 2.5mph. – David Richerby Jun 9 at 23:07
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    @David - The Trance has 140mm travel, its made to go down hill on technical trails, to go down hill, you need to go up. If not shuttling/chair lifting up, the 10miles could easily involve 1600 vertical meters height gain. Mortals need time to make that climb – mattnz Jun 10 at 3:15
  • @DavidRicherby you're obviously not a golfer – Paul H Jun 10 at 22:23
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    Actually, here is the right way to clean your chain! sheldonbrown.com/chainclean.html – Daniel R Hicks Jun 11 at 1:07
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The answer to the chain/drive train cleaning frequency question is pretty ambiguous. Allow your good sense to prevail as there is a fine line between meticulous and a psychiatric diagnosis. I ride daily using either mountain bike or roadie and in all weather conditions except ice or snow >6 inches. I use TriFlow (just a fact, not a product endorsement) to lube chain, derailleur pivot points, shifter & brake internals. I find that every week to 10 days, the chain requires the full cleanse and relube, which, as noted in other answers, has many routes to the goal of a lubed chain free of contaminates.

As far as in-between these complete cleansings, here's some ideas:
--Compressed air. Clinging dirt and sand get blown away rather easily and quickly with short blasts from the nozzle. I also hit the cassette and derailleurs. The Teflon in my choice of lube helps matters as road grit is less likely to stick firmly, if at all, to the chain or components. This is quick and easy enough to do after every ride, though the conditions on every ride don't always create the need for cleaning. Like pressurized water, good sense and care must be used so that the contaminants aren't driven into bearing housing, shift and brake cabling, etc. It's also possible to blow lubrication layer off the chain if one blasts a spot for too long. Overall, this works great.

--Take a rag, wrap around the chain and back peddle the crank to effectively remove much of the gunk collected on a chain. Related to this, one should wipe excess lube off the chain a short period of time after applying to chain and allowing it to penetrate the only place on the chain where it's needed: the internal aspects of the linkages where pin, bushing and side plates come together.

-- Excess lube creates an opportunity for more dirt and grime to attach itself to the chain. When applying lube, a couple of drops on each linkage followed by normal chain movement to assist it's penetration into the linkages is ample. Allow the solvent carrier (if applicable to your choice of lube) to evaporate and wipe off the excess clinging to the side plates.

--I find that paying attention to the rear derailleur pulleys is a helpful indicator when assessing the contamination level. It's here on the pulleys where the gritty, chain-wearing paste accumulates and transfers to and from the chain as one rides along. It's a simple matter to take a cloth or scraping tool and remove this from the pulley wheels.

--Some bicyclists like to run two chains, swapping the clean one in and gaining some flexibility with the dirty one, which can be cleaned at a time that's more convenient. The advent and success of Quick-links to break and rejoin a chain multiple times make this an easy way to keep the drivetrain fresh. Many report both cassette and chain have gained excellent longevity using this technique (more than can be explained by simply doubling the typical life of a single chain).

That was a Texas sized answer to say run two chains intermittently and utilize compressed air for quick cleaning between changes.

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There are numerous different approaches to this. As Sheldon Brown wrote, it's a religious debate.

One approach is to spray your drivetrain with WD40 after every ride--WD40 acts as both a degreaser and a lubricant. This might be what someone had in mind when you heard the every-40-miles advice.

But apart from that, I doubt anybody cleans their chain every 40 miles. The only satisfactory method I've found for cleaning a chain is to remove it and soak it in a can of degreaser, and that is a lot of work to do so often.

  • You've never heard of a chain washer? – Daniel R Hicks Jun 9 at 14:42
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    I have heard of a chain washer. In fact, I have used a few. It is based on that experience that I don't find them to do a satisfactory job. – Adam Rice Jun 10 at 3:44
  • General purpose WD-40 acts a degreaser. That's all. Or do you mean the WD40 "range" of products? – Criggie Jun 10 at 10:47
  • 100% agree about chain cleaners - perhaps I've just never spent enough on a "good" one but none have ever done as well for me as patience and a small bottle-brush for getting in between the plates. – Criggie Jun 10 at 10:48
  • I find the Park chain washer to be excellent. I doubt that you could do a better job if you removed and soaked the chain. – Daniel R Hicks Jun 10 at 12:54
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"Cleaning", "dirt" and even "rides" mean different things to different people. No one (almost no one) would suggest that you give the bike a thorough wash after commuting in to work, then again in the evening, but hosing the worst of the mud off after a day on the trails is reasonable. So it's cleaning the drivetrain before oiling it, if you feel it needs oiling.

SLX is a mountain groupset, so I'll assume you're riding trails and suggest that ideally you wouldn't leave it with caked on mud, but you don't need to get it spotless either. I don't use my MTB much, so tend to give it a rough wash and oil the chain after most rides; I often do the road bike at the same time. One reason is that it's easier to get dirt out of the derailleurs before it dries; and lumps of dirt affect performance as well as wear so you'll have a nicer ride next time.

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    You should NEVER wash a bike!! – Daniel R Hicks Jun 9 at 21:36
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    @DanielRHicks what do you mean by that? I didn't say you should immerse it, or pressure-wash it. Are you seriously saying that you should leave all the moving parts caked in mud after a day on the trails? Or wait for it to dry then pick it off? Oil on top of dirt? – Chris H Jun 10 at 5:35
  • I'm saying that it's totally uncool! You should clean the chain, sprockets, and derailleur mechanisms, and of course keep braking surfaces clean. But a good bike is much more attractive to me if it looks like it's being ridden. – Daniel R Hicks Jun 10 at 12:55
  • @DanielRHicks that makes more sense. When I clean mine, the goal is to get the mechanical parts and lights/reflectors quite clean and get the worst of the dirt off the rest, without going for spotless. That's partly so I stay cleaner handling it – Chris H Jun 10 at 13:16
  • I like a bike that shines--especially my roadie--but that's not to say I shy away from a trail due to conditions or the opportunity to ride because of the elements. – Jeff Jun 10 at 18:11
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Dry lubes designed to rinse the chain, used after every ride are the way to go. (I mostly use Rock'n'Roll, but that is not a particular recommendations, its what my LBS stocks). You squirt it onto the chain until its basically dripping off, run it around for 30 seconds and then wipe the chain dry with a cloth. Do this after every ride.

Every 4 or 10 rides you will want to give the chain a full clean (removal form bike is best, but an in place chain cleaner does an good job in 1/4 of the time). You will get a feel for when this is needed, if the chain feels gritty after applying the dry lube its time for a decent clean.

If the trails are wet, switch to wet lube and do a full clean more often.

Balance this with the cost of a chain - $30 should get one for your bike. I suggest buying a chain gauge tool, and use it regularly, so you know when to replace the chain. Its very easy with lots of off road riding to get caught out with chain wear happening much faster than expected.

As far as other maintenance often overlooked by new Mountain bikers, the Fox Forks and shocks require service every 30 hours.

  • If I found the right stuff online...I dunno about using a $10, 4 ounce bottle to rinse things off. That seems like it would get more expensive than the parts we want to save, no? It would take half the bottle to make my chain drip. – Christopher Pisz Jun 10 at 18:03
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Like many tasks, the amount of time you spend cleaning and lubricating your chain will vary based on how often you do it. I only spend about an average of 5 minutes at this but I do it every 20 miles or after my last ride if it was longer than 20. After a ride, I simply take a shop rag and press it against my chain while I spin the cranks by hand for a minute. Then, I drip lube along the chain as I continue to spin the crank. Finally, I just press the chain between three of my fingers while I spin for another minute. Then I put my bike up until the next ride. I use Squirt lube and I found it unnecessary to clean the lube off before I ride next but other messier lubes do call for that so you may have to repeat the shop rag cleaning before your next ride (perhaps the next morning).

Less frequently, I'll do a more in-depth cleaning with a chain cleaner and degreaser. Perhaps every 10 rides or so.

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